Arð
Untouched By Fire

I don’t know how I missed the debut of this project formed by Mark Reed, keyboardist from Winterfylleth, one of the UK’s very best black metal exports of the last 15 years. They released an album in 2022 called Take Up My Bones, which I shall immediately be procuring after hearing Untouched by Fire.

Like Winterfylleth, Arð (‘native land’) is focused on pre -Viking English history. While Take Up My Bones told the tale of  Lindisfarne’s Saint Cuthbert and his relics, Reed continues to take his musical historical expertise (His Philosophy PhD was titled “National Identity in Northern and Eastern European Heavy Metal”) with Untouched By Fire, telling the sagas of Warrior King Oswald of Northumbria.

And these tales are delivered with an austere regal, monastic form of doom metal, bolstered by Reed’s keyboard experience (as well as vocals, rhythm guitars, bass guitar, and organ/piano here). He’s joined by guitarist Dan Capp from Wolcensmen on lead guitar, acoustic guitar, and backing vocals, and Callum Cox (Atavist) on drums. Some other players help out on Cello and other medieval instruments to complete the recording’s solemn, anglo-saxon tones.

Musically, there are obvious nods to the holy trinity of British doom (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Anathema) and Solstice with long, rending songs, delicate strings, organs, piano, and somber, plodding, knee-wilting riffs and melodies. But where Arð truly shines is the monastic choral vocals that imbue the likes of early Pantheist, some of Germany’s Enid (i.e. “Exemption” from Gradwanderer), and a slightly less baritone Árstíðir Lífsins. There is no growling, screaming, or crooning, the vocals are delivered entirely in this monkish, choral chant that’s like being in Canterbury Cathedral in 700AD. And at times it’s breathtaking.

The heavy, forlorn, Church-like atmosphere permeates the entire album, with long songs from 5-9 minutes and one sort of sung interlude clocking in at just over 3 minutes. The album is one of those ‘headphone’ albums that requires you to listen to the whole affair at once and be bathed in the swathes of absolutely gorgeous keyboards and vocals while you sip on mead in the old ruins of a church.

From opener “Cursed to Nothing but Patience” to closer “Casket of Dust”, the album is absolutely mesmerizing. If the opening chants and piano/strings of “Name Bestowed” don’t give you goosebumps, you are dead inside. Now, the riffs, while appropriately doomy and mopey, aren’t the focus here, while they are serviceable, they never truly peak or payoff in any of te songs, but it’s really about the vocals, pianos, and strings here. Case and point; the main riffs from “Hefenfelth” are certainly there, but the organs and vocals make it. The layered riffs and despondent harmonies from “He Saw Nine Winters” and closer ‘Casket of Dust” are a little more impactful and emotive, but still……. those vocals…just sooo good. I haven’t been as impacted by clean vocals since Lunar Mercia .in early 2023

If you, like me were disappointed by My Dying Bride’s A Mortal Binding, then let Untouched by Fire be your English doom ringer and bask in its gorgeous monastic warmth.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
May 21st, 2024

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